Personal Stories and Public Conversations: Why Celebrities Share their Struggles

Most of us can probably recall more intimate knowledge about certain ‘celebs’ compared to details about our close friends. We consume celebrity culture at such a rate that it can be difficult to protest this fact, and the rise of social media has only forged a stronger connection to our favourite public figures.

Images of Hollywood parties and luxury lifestyles sit in social feeds amongst our friend’s sunburnt holiday snapshots and arty disposable images from uni house parties. The unattainable celebrity appears more approachable and relatable, their profiles at the distance of a fingertip.

As social media provides a platform for celebrities to share, and for us to consume their stories, more and more are sharing their experiences with mental health and sexual abuse previously considered taboo topics. This trend has potentially reached an Everest worthy peak with The Me You Can’t See, a new Apple TV+ series spearheaded by Oprah and The Sussexes, featuring personal discussions with public figures on mental health, including Lady Gaga and Glenn Close. While we should question where the money made from the show is being spent, does that make the pursuit of the show less worthy or less vitally important?

It is easy to be cynical about the plethora of celebrities sharing their personal stories and struggles from Beverly Hill mansions, but I would argue a not very helpful stance to take. With Mind reporting that one in three adults didn’t access needed mental health support during the pandemic because “they did not think that they deserved support”, any positive public discourse we can encourage about mental health should be celebrated. According to the World Health Organisation, one in four people struggle with their mental health. Statistically, celebrities will be included in that figure and practically, they have a much bigger platform than most to initiate, quite frankly, life saving conversations. 

It is remarkable to reflect on how conversations surrounding mental health have changed from taboo to trend of public discussions – a change highlighted perfectly by Prince Harry. When Princess Diana dared to speak about her experiences with bulimia, depression, and self harm in her infamous 1995 Panorama, it was ground-breaking and shocking. In 2021, Meaghan and Harry continue to open up about their own struggles – and this should be celebrated for the conversations it sparks.

Of course, for some there are problems with these celebrity discussions about mental health. For example, Sarah Silverman comments, “people use panic attack very casually”. The same can be said for anxiety and depression, we have almost desensitised ourselves to the words by using them to describe our emotional sensations as opposed to a mental condition. Being anxious and being clinically diagnosed and medicated for anxiety are drastically different scenarios. It is equally important we talk about both, but it is even more important that we publicly acknowledge the difference.

Countless celebrities have opened up about their own struggles, their success almost standing in conflict with our perceived idea of what a struggle looks like. Yet it is invaluable to talk about what active treatment involves and how to live alongside any diagnosis. But celebrity lifestyles often mean their recovery stories are undermined due to their wealth.

Having access to private health care, having the ability to take time off work, and being able to afford the resources that help to manage a condition is a privilege – but it neither mitigates the pain of the condition, nor assumes a privileged life make you less worthy of help.  

As Dwayne Johnson comments, “you’re not the first to go through it” – and that may be the very reason we cling to these public conversations. A recent example would be Demi Lovato’s three tell-all documentaries Dancing with the Devil, although it conveniently promotes an album of the same name and tour announcements.

Not all celebrity ‘personal stories’ are equal or wholly relatable to members of the public struggling with their own mental health. Some, like Lovato’s, make it hard to ignore the money being made and the gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Some, like Mind ambassador Stephen Fry’s 2006 documentary, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, can be cited as the start of decade-long conversations. Manic depression, now diagnosed clinically as type one and type two bipolar, runs in my family and Fry’s frank exploration is the closest I have personally been to understanding the condition for myself. It is a truly useful resource. For some, Lovato’s trilogy of documentaries will be equally as enlightening (I’m probably just being cynical). But as long as we all listen to one of these conversations and begin our own within our social circles, it could help.

We all have the right to talk about our mental health, even the lucky few who win Oscars and can call Brad and Leo their friends. The public discourse surrounding mental health has progressed enormously in the last decade, with the help of social media and the power it gives to public figures to better control their own narratives. We should celebrate this trend of talking for what it is – a step in the right direction for aiding the mental health epidemic. Be cynical, but allow the rest of us to carry on the vital conversation. 

-Georgia Balmer

Featured Image Source: Unsplash

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